Teacher Profile #3: Laurie Todd

What we do is transformative . The RIE motto of ‘authentic infant, competent child’ feels like such a gift – to be allowed to develop oneself without pressure from adults to always be bigger, better and faster, to have one’s competence recognized and fostered, to be able to fail without shame and to learn from those failures – all these things allow children to develop the resilience to carry them through the hard times that every life brings.

 

 

I opened Laurie’s House in September of 1993, I don’t call it a school – even though we learn a lot here!

Hometown–  First 8 years Fairbanks Alaska, then 9 years in Mt. Vernon, Washington then on to Portland for college.

Current Location–  Portland, Oregon

Job Title–  Early Childhood Educator, Family Child Care Provider/owner

Degrees/Education–  4 years History and Political Science at Lewis & Clark – pre-law – left one class short of graduating. I left because I had come out in my Junior year and was angry about many things – among them the fact that I’d spent all of my 21 years doing what other people wanted me to do. I needed time to learn who I was and read only what I wanted to read! It was a confusing and liberating time in my life.

2 years at PSU with a BA in History and Secondary Education

1 year in the Masters in History program at PSU – I was focusing on the history of child rearing

2 years for my MA in Human Development from Pacific Oaks

Age– 59

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How long have you been working with children? Do you have your own children?

I’ve been working with children for 30 years. I helped raise a friend’s daughter, but have no children of my own.

What is the story of what first drew you to work with children?

A long and serendipitous one – I had been reading Ivan Illich and John Holt’s writing on radical education, the Secondary Ed. program at PSU in the mid-80’s felt dehumanizing to me. It validated my sense that Illich’s line  “School is the advertising agency which makes you believe that you need the society as it is” was correct and that schools as institutions generally didn’t allow much room for self- discovery and questioning.

I figured ECE was more of the same but with younger children, and I was an out lesbian so I didn’t see it as a possible career. A friend had been fired from an ECE job for being a lesbian, and with anti-gay ballot measures popping up that would have restricted our ability to be licensed, I couldn’t imagine myself in this field.

Then as I was about to start grad. school and needed a part time job a friend told me that her daughter’s preschool (Childpeace Montessori) needed subs and since I was “good with children” I should apply. I thought “job from hell”, but I needed money – after my first day of work they hired me on as regular afternoon staff, and later in their new infant room. I had some good experiences there. Then friends asked me to do part time child-care for their baby – they were reading RIE and I loved it. We attended a workshop Pacific Oaks had Magda Gerber do here in Portland. At that time the college had an outreach program here, and they were offering their social and political foundations class the next semester. I saw that in addition to sexism and racism, which had barely been mentioned in my PSU classes, they were talking about classism and homophobia. I decided to take the class that Louise Derman-Sparks and Katie Kissinger were teaching, and soon realized that I’d found my people and my passion.

Is this your calling? If not, why do you do it?

Yes, my calling and my passion. I feel very lucky to have stumbled into it, having spent my 20’s searching for my right work.

Do you feel fulfilled in this work? How so?

 Yes, mostly, but sometimes there’s a nagging voice in my head that with my education I should be doing more. Some days with babies feel very long, but I like the way I am pushed to my edge and get to work through so much of my own stuff as I am with them. Early on in my learning with infants I examined that period in my own life and saw  mistakes my parents made; learning about early development and working with babies has given me the opportunity to understand and heal some of those places. I’ve always been interested in social and emotional development, and getting to spend the first three years with a variety of interesting people has deepened my understanding and appreciation of how our emotional self is formed.

I continue to grow in my ability to be patient and present with discomfort – my own and that of others. When I am not as patient, present, or gentle as I strive to be I have learned to repair the emotional wound, and forgive myself.

Tell us about the trajectory of your career. Who was helpful along the way? How do you feel like having your own children (if you have any) influenced your career decisions/aspirations/understanding/etc?

 Everyone at PO was wonderfully helpful –  some, along with friends and family, even lent me money to begin my program. Nan Narboe, whose baby I first took care of and who introduced me to RIE has been a great support and teacher along the way. She and my massage therapist have been like wise older sisters, or supervisors to me, and when I get stuck I still call them for help. My practicum students have given me the opportunity to do my best teaching; we sit on the kitchen floor and debrief – exploring different perspectives on what we and the children are doing.

 At PO I didn’t know what I was going to do with this degree, but when I started my thesis I realized that I didn’t see anyone doing RIE in a family child care environment and knew that was what I wanted. Maureen Moreland was using RIE in the program she directed at Parent Child Services, and I think there were others who had studied some RIE, but there weren’t many of us.

I taught one class a semester in the distance learning program at PO for 15 years, but after the reign of the evil college president, and when my partner became disabled, I stopped. I’ve done some teaching and workshops locally, PCC, OAEYC, and now BAB.

As my partner’s mobility impairment has increased we’ve had to make a number of expensive changes to our house and landscape. I didn’t want to move because I’ve put so much into creating this environment and making it work. Some of the changes have been great for the children; everyone loves our ramp and running up and down it at the end of the day as parents watch and visit has become a wonderful part of our culture here. We moved the sandbox to make a raised garden bed for Terri, and the new location along with the hard surface pavers we had to put in have all been positive changes.

I was lucky to have spent time learning about accessibility issues at Pacific Oaks, so I felt more prepared for some of the changes than I would have otherwise been. The children certainly benefit from having a person in their lives who uses a power wheelchair, and it’s added to our conversations about how to make the world work for everybody. As someone who’s pushed strollers a lot, curb cut activism has always been a part of my work with children!

On the downside, more of the responsibility for maintaining our home has fallen on me, as Terri has been able to do less. That’s made the time crunch we all feel, a bit tighter for me.  We’ve had to rearrange some furniture in ways that make it easier for her to move through the space, but don’t serve the child care function as well.

Tell us what your hopes for the future are. Where do you hope to be in ten years? Twenty?

 I want my body to hold up until I retire in six and a half years – yoga and other self-care are more important as I age. I want there to be more good options for infant care and I feel a responsibility (as well as financial need) to continue to provide care for two more cohorts. After I retire I want to study English and Math because I didn’t the first time through, and volunteer or do a bit of consulting, teaching, or sub work if that feels right.

What is the bigger picture for you? How do you see the work of early childhood education acting on the world?

 What we do is transformative – a couple of my first babies are out in the world now doing great work, and they’re starting from a stronger foundation than many in my generation had. We’re planting seeds to keep the good in the world going, and nurturing resilience so these children will have the inner strength to deal with what’s not good in the world. The RIE motto of  ‘authentic infant, competent child’ feels like such a gift – to be allowed to develop oneself without pressure from adults to always be bigger, better and faster, to have one’s competence recognized and fostered, to be able to fail without shame and to learn from those failures – all these things allow children to develop the resilience to carry them through the hard times that every life brings.

What is on your plate for this school year? Teaching, researching, presenting, etc.

I’m in the last year of cohort #8 and enjoying the ease of our final year together. My professional growth is to keep pushing myself to support children in areas that are uncomfortable for me – art and messy sensory activities – I’ve gotten better over the years, but this will never be my strength. My interest in social and emotional development continues to be my strength, and my curiosity about who each child is helps me guide them as they develop a sense of self and their place in the world.

How has your teaching evolved over the years? As early childhood education becomes a more honored part of our culture, how do you think this has influenced your work with children or teachers?

 Years of practice have made me more patient. I am also better able to accept and appreciate the differences in our practices – we don’t all have to be teaching the same way to be good, nor should we. I’m really interested in how differences in time, place, and culture impact the way we raise children.

 What is your advice to young/burgeoning teachers?

 Know yourself and keep learning. 

How do you help yourself relax/unwind after a long day of working with children? What helps you feel healthy and taken care of?

 Meditation, yoga, reading, listening to music and singing, walking, good podcasts

 Non-educational practices/hobbies that are important to you.

 Knitting and the things above.

Can you talk about a sacrifice or setback that you have tackled as an early childhood educator over the years?

 Dealing with paperwork and QRIS – as a person with an aversion to standardized, institutionalized education, QRIS really challenged me. I ended up having someone else finish my portfolio for me, because I couldn’t see how much of  what I was being asked related to my small in home infant program. Having had conversations with a number of people in different roles I understand the complexity of trying to improve early childhood education, but I hate it when I see good small programs struggling under rules and language that don’t fit who they are.

Last book that you read that really inspired your thinking around your work?

 Emily Plank’s ‘Discovering the Culture of Childhood’

Final thoughts: Hope, belief, love of the profession?

 I hope for the authentic self of all children to be supported and honored. It thrills me that there is so much good information about child development easily available now. Janet Lansbury is doing a wonderful job spreading Magda Gerber’s work, and the number of FB groups and web pages I see promoting play based learning, early brain development, and the need for children to live childhood at their own pace, inspire me. I am gratified to see the work being done to dismantle oppressive systems especially as they relate to early childhood. There is lots of good work to be done, and lots of good people doing it.

 

 

 

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